So the Gulf region is a very important region in the world of migration affairs, primarily because it hosts the world’s largest temporary migration corridor, which means that a lot of migrants– millions and millions of migrants– go to the Gulf, work there, but they don’t settle there. They eventually come back. So this is a completely different kind of migration which is happening towards the Gulf. And this is mandated by law in the sense that you cannot settle in the Gulf because it’s impossible to get citizenship because citizenship in the Gulf is based on the right of blood and not on– you cannot get citizenship after immigrating there. So hence the temporary nature of this migration.
And India has a very specific role in this because India is the largest source country for migrants in the Gulf. So the India to Gulf migration corridor, in a way, is the world’s largest temporary migration corridor. And today, over 5 million Indians work in the Gulf, and it represents over 40% of India’s immigrants worldwide.
The Gulf is unique in that in some countries in the Gulf, over 90% of the workforce is immigrant. And now, almost 40% to 50% is not only immigrant, but immigrant Indian. So in that sense, Indians have a huge role to play. And, of course, a huge chunk of the Indian workforce there is what’s called pure labourers, which means working in blue collar jobs in the construction industry. The Gulf has had massive construction in the last 40 years. So a lot of construction workers. But within the construction industries, again, different classes. So from the very rich, there are also Indian entrepreneurs building buildings in the Gulf. But also, the bulk is definitely lower class labour.
This is in complete contrast to, for example, Indians who are going to the US. The Indians in the US are the 1% of India– the elite, the highly educated, the very rich. Whereas the Indians going to the Gulf are not the richest, not the most educated. Though from the pockets of regions– or from the regions where they’re coming from, they are not the poorest, as well. So it is somewhere in between. And they’re working– the construction industry is huge. But the city itself– for example, Dubai, Doha– there’s a huge urban informal economy which has spawned. So there are a lot of shops. There’s a lot of trading, retail, wholesale, hotels.
This entire service sector which drives these cities has been staffed by an immigrant workforce which is also largely Indian in nature.
I think I would start with the fact that the fundamental reason why it is so attractive to migrate from, say, the southern state of Kerala, which is not the poorest state of India. It’s a fairly rich state in India. But the reason why they still go to the Gulf is this huge sort of pull caused by wage differentials. So at one level, this is neoclassical economics where wage differentials are driving migration. But that’s not the whole story because you can’t settle. So neoclassical economics says that you go from a labour surplus place to a labour scarce place. And over time, wage differentials will level. Now, that’s not really happening.
Wages have gone up in the Gulf, and they’ve gone up, but they’ve not equalised across India and the Gulf. And that’s partly because this is not permanent migration. So this is neoclassical economics with a twist because there’s a lot of return migration. And the return migration yields a lot of remittances. And that leads to a lot of issues in the source regions. Another theory which explains a lot of this migration is what we call social network theory. The reason why almost all of this migration from India to the Gulf happens from one single state– and within that state, a few districts– and within those districts, a few villages, is the because there are very powerful social networks at play.
So you go through a kin and kith system. So if you know somebody in the Gulf, it makes your life much easier because it reduces your costs of accommodation, cost of finding a job, etc., etc. So in that sense, social networks play a huge role. Also the fact that it’s over-represented among Muslims also shows what the social gap can play in driving these migration trends. So clearly, not one particular theory. But I would say wage differentials, which is the classic hallmark of neoclassical economics, but with a twist because there’s a lot of return migration and remittances. And also social networks in sustaining these mass migrations from certain pockets of India in certain jobs and among certain socioeconomic categories.